“Fallacious Rhetoric against the Tea Party & the Demise of Civilized Discourse”
A Guest Blog By David Pring-Mill
September 19, 2011
I. Slander against the Tea Party
At the time of this writing, the current U.S. national debt is $14,699,021,631,213.05#. The nonpartisan CBO recently noted, “The $1.3 trillion budget deficit […] for 2011 will be the third-largest shortfall in the past 65 years (exceeded only by the deficits of the preceding two years).” With a startling lack of transparency, trillions of government dollars have been spent to bail out and support the financial institutions that recklessly wreaked havoc upon the U.S. economy. In 2009, President Obama signed a stimulus bill that cost $787 billion. Following that first year in office, the Obama administration has shown no signs of mitigating its urge to spend, and an aspect of Obama’s healthcare plan, the mandatory insurance provision, has been judicially deemed to be unconstitutional. Obama now wants to pass a jobs bill that will cost $447 billion. During his September 8th address to Congress, he repeatedly demanded “pass this jobs bill” and “you should pass it right away.” This refrain was uttered 17 times. The veracity of these figures is undisputed, and the implication of these figures is clear – under the President’s leadership, our government is spending money that it doesn’t have and justifying this spending with an increasingly dubious, ineffective ideology and macroeconomic theory. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty last year – a record high. The bureau noted that this is “the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington, recently provided a reporter with a concise description of the political movement referred to as the Tea Party. He stated, “What the Tea Party stands for, and what unites everybody in the Tea Party I think, is their concern about the debt, and the concern that we’re borrowing so much and printing so much to pay for our debt.” After considering the aforementioned figures and the stated goals of the Tea Party, one would presume that the Tea Party reflects the sensibilities of almost all citizens – and 30% of Americans do support the movement, yet to keep that number from growing further, certain leftists seem determined to depict the movement as a mob of fringe lunatics suffering from simmering, unspoken racist motivations. Rather than engage in a substantive economic discussion, these leftists have chosen to try to malign and marginalize the Tea Party. There is cause for concern here – the national debt is approaching fifteen trillion dollars and the people who want to cut spending are routinely labeled as racist and crazy. This has led me to wonder whether I am living in a farfetched political satire that has somehow risen from fictitious origins into reality.
In political debates, fallacious straw man arguments are sometimes used to misrepresent an opponent’s position, quote the opponent out of context, and oversimplify the opponent’s position, etc. These days, members of the left have gone one step further in the direction of slanderous discourse. As the result of unspecified telepathic methods of espionage, they now have the gall to state what is in their opponents’ minds, including the thoughts that their opponents’ minds conjure up but subsequently suppress. Biased left-leaning media outlets have bestowed undue, copious amounts of airtime upon those willing to slanderously mischaracterize Tea Party supporters in this manner. Comedian Janeane Garofalo was allowed a platform on MSNBC in which she bashed the movement by saying, “Let’s be very honest about what this is about. It’s not about bashing Democrats, it’s not about taxes; they have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about. They don’t know their history at all. This is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea bagging rednecks.” For Ms. Garofalo to imply that there are no valid grounds to oppose the president and conclude that the sole motivation for the Tea Party’s opposition to him is race may suggest that she herself views Obama as a black man and nothing else, and is consequently in a state in which she is somehow oblivious to his policies and the controversies therein. HBO-appointed political pundit Bill Maher said, “And ever since Obama came on the scene, there is a word that has been sticking in their throats that they would love to say, but they can’t ‘cause it’s not the 1950’s. They would love to say this word, it begins with ‘N’ and ends with ‘R,’ and it’s not ‘nation builder.’”
Furthering this disturbing trend in which leftists try to develop their ability to read minds, writer Aaron Sorkin criticized Tea Party leader Sarah Palin in a Huffington Post article#, in which he took aim (no pun intended) at her for hunting a moose while being filmed for her reality TV show. He wrote, “You weren’t killing that animal for food or shelter or even fashion, you were killing it for fun.” After shaming her for the sadistic pleasure that he decided had occurred inside of her mind, he went on to state that he eats meat and uses animal products but doesn’t “relish the idea of torturing animals,” and therefore feels “no pangs of hypocrisy.” To be clear, Sorkin was angry at Palin because of what he thought that she’d been thinking while she hunted a moose that lived in the wild, but he claims to be on higher moral ground than her because he merely passively pays to have animals confined for their entire lives in factory farms and then subsequently slaughtered. And he does, after all, feel lingering guilt about it. When Mr. Sorkin eats a burger, he never thinks of it as fun – it’s a solemn duty.
This trend of fallacious criticism cheapens the political discourse. We must ask ourselves why we support media outlets that support these tactics when the outlets could instead publicize and disseminate discussions of intellectual merit. If our political debates will henceforth be based upon feigned mind reading, perhaps the next step is to use Tarot cards to pass legislation. Yet there seems to be no sign of these tactics relenting. At a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly said that members of the Tea Party “acted like terrorists” by being uncooperative with the administration’s efforts to raise the debt limit.# In a Salon article, Michael Lind, the Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation, wrote that, “The mainstream media have completely missed the story, by portraying the Tea Party movement in ideological rather than regional terms.” He went on to state that “Tea Party conservatism speaks with a pronounced Southern drawl,” and he provided a pie chart to convey the Tea Party’s regional distribution. Mr. Lind thinks that the geographical location of Tea Party supporters somehow proves that the Tea Party is a continuation of historical Southern racism. Be careful where you stand – that is to say, where you stand physically, not politically, because, according to Mr. Lind, if a group is centralized in one physical location then that group must be of a similar mindset with the people who historically did things on that same piece of Earth.
Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar, a professor and associate dean at the University of Connecticut, wrote an article in which he asserted that Rep. Michelle Bachmann, notorious for her uninformed verbal gaffes, is in fact a “master manipulator.” Preceding this description of Bachmann, he linked to and quoted from a white nationalist site as part of his effort to claim that conservatives are actively stoking racial fears. After refuting the claims made on the unequivocally racist site, he sloppily transitioned into criticism of Bachmann, ergo equating overt white nationalism with Rep. Bachmann, the Tea Party, and the far-ranging spectrum of the political right. The professor resorted to these smear tactics because he was hard-pressed for citable evidence that racism is explicitly promulgated by mainstream Republican leaders.
Yet there is no lack of evidence that loud and prominent voices on the left have utilized fallacious tactics akin to the professor’s. Only fringe elements of the Tea Party have been explicitly racist and those fringe elements have been denounced by Tea Party leaders, whereas the vitriolic sentiments and smear tactics of celebrities, pundits, and lower ranking leftists is consistent with the rhetoric of elected congressmen and the Vice President. Their shared objective is seemingly to discredit the Tea Party movement and to further engage in high levels of government spending, and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of moral restraint when uttering rhetoric as a means to attaining that end. These tactics are sickening. They’re sickening to a political atmosphere that is already sick, and divisive to a country that is already divided. The Tea Party critics pretend that unspoken and imperceptible thoughts and motivations exist within their opponents’ minds; then these critics disparage the Tea Party on the basis of their own overreaching pseudo-psychoanalytical theories. In condemning the Tea Party movement as racist, these critics rely upon the very mechanisms of racism – Mr. Lind made a generalization based upon a geographic area, and other critics are willing to point to a proportionately small number of racists within a crowd of thousands as an excuse to speak ill of the entire crowd. Racism is not exclusive to any geographic region or political party. Racism is pernicious and pervasive. To invoke the topic and ascribe racist views to political opponents without sufficient evidence shows a blatant disregard for fair and civilized democratic discourse. I have no doubt that there are individual Tea Party supporters who are racist, and I have no doubt that there are individual members within all political parties and movements who harbor racial biases. I have no doubt that some Tea Party supporters have protested with offensive signs and chanted vile slogans and shouted racial epithets, and I have no doubt that some protestors held offensive signs and chanted vile slogans and shouted their own brand of hatred while opposing the Bush administration. Individuals are responsible for themselves. A political movement is responsible for its primary unifying message – and the message of fiscal conservatism prompted the Tea Party’s founding.
II. Partisan Maneuvers & Methods
Liberals have long argued that fiscal conservatives are racist because many of them want to change welfare from a system of dependency into a transitional measure. Opposition to an unreformed continuation of institutionally flawed welfare programs may affect minority recipients, but such opposition does not necessarily imply a racist motivation; such an opposition can also be prompted by a more general ideology towards government spending. Whether you agree or disagree with that ideology, and the contradictions therein, is the subject of a separate discussion entirely – and that is the discussion that this country should be having. Unable to prove that Tea Party leaders or mainstream GOP policy is explicitly racist, the only way for leftists to substantiate the racism claim is to dubiously plumb the depths of their opponents’ psyches and ascribe racist motivations to Republican opposition to Democratic legislation, though it is my understanding that opposition to another party’s legislation is a fundamental tenet of partisanship. In response to Tea Party critics making unsubstantiated racism accusations, I have pointed out that prominent black Republicans such as Michael Steele, Condoleezza Rice, Herman Cain, and others would be interested in learning that they are being racist against themselves, as would Tea Party-supported Congressmen Tim Scott and Allen West. The response has been the oft-repeated liberal refrain that the Republican Party has tricked many Americans into “voting against their own self-interests” and has likewise bamboozled its own minority elected officials into legislating against themselves. A fair-minded person would note that all people of all races are entitled to their own political opinions – black people can be for the Tea Party, and black people can be against the Tea Party; such is the nature of our modern democracy. I make arguments in favor of the Tea Party, but I am also receptive to any opposing arguments provided that the arguments are supported by facts and aren’t maliciously false. The Tea Party critics with whom I have spoken seem to have no interest in respecting their fellow citizens in this manner. A simple internet search of this “voting against their own self-interests” phrase will reveal the staggering extent to which the line has been used. Leftists can dismiss the many minorities in the GOP as being ignorantly self-destructive and gullible, and it is evident that many leftists have no reluctance in doing so, but it isn’t actually the left’s prerogative to determine other people’s “self interests.” This parental approach to America in which liberals tell poor and minority Americans “I know you think you want that, but it’s actually bad for you” is appallingly condescending. It also presumes that lower income conservatives ought to be single issue voters – with that single issue being the amount of personal monetary benefit that they stand to gain from government policy; all other components of party platforms should apparently be disregarded. If you are a poor conservative, leftists will accuse you of voting against your own self-interests; in essence, you are not being selfish enough – stop being selfless. If you are a rich conservative, those same leftists will accuse you of being selfish for favoring policies that would result in your own taxation – be more selfless. However, contrary to Democrats’ expectations and the bitterness that results when those expectations are not met, the Democratic Party is not actually entitled to the votes of any economic class or demographic. If a party feels entitled to your vote and chastises you by specifically telling you that you have been foolishly hurting yourself, then it is clear that the party doesn’t have a very high regard for your intellect.
And it is with that same spirit of condescension and the same we-know-what’s-best-for-you philosophy that the Democratic President, having secured the votes of poor people whose homes were foreclosed on, proceeded to bail out the financial institutions that caused the housing crisis in the first place, all the while saying that he knew that what he was doing wouldn’t be popular with the American people. Biden and Pelosi laughed in the background as Obama addressed the public in his first State of the Union speech by saying, “We all hated the bank bailout. I hated it, you hated it; it was about as popular as a root canal. But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular. I would do what was necessary.” The patronizing attitude could not be more apparent – it is heard in statements directly from the President. Americans who had lost their jobs and homes had been angry when they’d learned that their own tax dollars were being used to bail out the banks that significantly contributed to their country’s economic problems. And then they sat and watched as their President compared the bailout to a root canal and suggested that his policies, like trips to the dentist, are hated but necessary. This same attitude was evident in Obama’s recent jobs bill speech when he dismissed the public’s political awareness by outright saying, “The millions of Americans who are watching right now, they don’t care about politics. They have real life concerns.”
The demeanor of certain members of the left is derisive, their tactics are immoral. In addition to being fallacious, fear-instigating, and inflammatory, the left’s race baiting tactics happen to be unnecessary. There are valid grounds to criticize conservatives. Fiscal conservatives weren’t sufficiently vocal in trying to reclaim the libertarian component of the Republican Party when George W. Bush, a Republican President who campaigned on his opposition to nation building, proceeded to overthrow and then rebuild the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq throughout the duration of his presidency, incurring a war debt of $3 trillion. Furthermore, Rep. Bachmann’s homophobia is undeniable and clearly spelled out in her public statements. Honorable leftists will oppose her on the basis of homophobic statements that she has actually made instead of repudiating racist thoughts that they think that she is thinking.
I can’t speak definitively as to why the racist accusations have in numerous instances been made apart from condemnation of some conservatives’ anti-gay stances for one would think that anti-racism pretensions would be more convincing if made as part of an overall depiction of conservative bigotry, but this oddity may in fact be a political maneuver. Historically, the Democratic Party was pro-slavery and anti-civil rights, yet the Southern strategy represented a shift in the political loyalties of the black community. Perhaps shouting “racism” is a way for the Democratic Party to solidify its base, garner more support, and divert attention away from the fact that real median income for black households has significantly dropped during the Obama administration. The evils of racism are widely condemned, yet most state governments won’t acknowledge that gay citizens have the right to wed on terms equal to those of heterosexual couples. This dismissal of the devotion of gay couples invalidates their orientation in a fundamental way, causing a homophobic ripple effect throughout society. It is widely perceived that homophobia is particularly rampant in the African-American community# – therefore, the attempts to shore up black support and gay support are often distinctly separate endeavors. It would of course seem appropriate for Professor Ogbar and Policy Director Michael Lind to follow up their unsubstantiated racism charges with substantiated charges of homophobia, but when it comes to the latter subject and its comparatively less broad appeal, they fall conspicuously silent in the aforementioned articles. It is a lot harder to fight on behalf of a minority group that is still actively harassed and discriminated against than it is to speak on behalf of a minority group that still encounters adversity but has nonetheless won the toughest of its civil rights battles. Granted, fighting on behalf of gay people won’t get the Democratic Party as many votes, and opting to instead label opponents as racists may cause others to gather within the party out of a fear of the validity of the repeated accusations or a fear of becoming subject to the accusations – but at least Mr. Ogbar and Mr. Lind wouldn’t have to resort to fallacy.
And why do Mr. Ogbar and Mr. Lind bash the Tea Party as being covertly racist when the birther movement has been overtly racist? There may be some overlap in the belief systems of self-described birthers and tea partiers, but the Tea Party was founded with clear motives of fiscal conservatism and libertarianism, and the birther movement has been explicitly racist in its efforts to discredit the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. However, the birther trend, while disturbing, merely threatened to harm Obama’s reelection campaign whereas the Tea Party has been successful at wielding legislative influence that has partially thwarted the full implementation of his policies. Therefore, the need has remained to condemn racism while mentioning the Tea Party by name – ergo, the object of condemnation is not racism generally but the Tea Party specifically.
Some of the leftists utilizing these dirty tactics seem to be aware that they are in the wrong. Vice President Biden later denied that he said that the Tea Party members were acting like terrorists in spite of the fact that sources from within his own party had provided the information. During a controversial speech, Rep. Carson of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “Some of them in Congress right now of this Tea Party movement would love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.” On CNN, he later backpedaled to a more moderate tone by saying, “Well, I wasn’t talking about the entire Tea Party. I think the Tea Party is absolutely right when they call for increased transparency in government, when they call for a cutback on excessive government spending. I am deeply concerned about some elements of the Tea Party who are extremist.” Instead of being self-righteous for partisan purposes, perhaps our politicians should do the right thing by uniting behind practical cost-cutting measures. During the CNN/Tea Party debate, Newt Gingrich said, “If you simply had a serious all out effort to modernize the federal government, you would have hundreds of billions of dollars of savings.” He cited Strong America Now, a bipartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of wasteful government spending.
III. Maintaining Tea Party Ideals & Moving Past Partisanship
It should be noted that my intention in this essay is primarily to discourage dirty politics and to encourage a productive and independent mentality that can lead to actual solutions. It is time to reduce, reform, and reprioritize government spending not for the sake of partisanship but for the sake of the country. The Tea Party must hold steadfast to this task because the movement is at risk of becoming a mere reflection of the full spectrum of the Republican Party, distinguished only by the ardency of its members. The movement will always have some extremist members with unfortunate fringe views, but this reality applies to every political movement in the history of the world.
I would like to conclude by explaining that I am a registered independent, and furthermore, I am a human being, not a political ideology. As a human being with an independence of thought, I feel no need to make generalizations about an opposing party, though I will point out observable and overt partisan trends. I do not feel compelled to defend the thoughts, words and actions of every member of a party with which I am aligned, for I am aligned with no party. I am aligned with my fellow people and I want an economic environment in which people do not suffer. Our President campaigned on the virtue of hope. And I do hope that Obama’s economic policies won’t cause stagflation. I hope that the jobs bill, if passed, will put some unemployed people back to work and reunite them with a sense of professional worth and fulfillment. I hope that Obama’s proposed multi-billion dollar high-speed trains will take Americans back to a time when Americans took trains. But just as offensive allegations need to be substantiated, political appeals to the virtue of hope need the accompaniment of substance in the form of policies and economic ideologies that have a demonstrably positive impact on the country as a whole.
The bureaucratic structure of our government has become large and corrupt, and our nation in its current state is a sharp departure from the vision of our founding fathers. Lobbying efforts, corporate influence, and huge campaign contributions and the resulting tax credits, subsidies, wars, and policies have tilted the government’s overly complicated workings towards epic dysfunction. We have a national debt that is skyrocketing towards fifteen trillion dollars, additional massive spending is being proposed, and some proponents of the Obama administration are now making the argument that the massive stimulus package didn’t work because it wasn’t massive enough. But does the electorate have the objectivity necessary to set the country on a more promising path, and more importantly, does government still contain the institutional capacities that would enable us to do so? Most Americans identify themselves as being independent-minded – but in reality, many of them gravitate towards one of two contradiction-riddled, all-encompassing partisan ideologies that will assuredly be justified, promoted, and defended on the behalf of all adherents. Too many Americans, in practice, define themselves by association and by opposition. Partisanship has led people to think of the Tea Party and gay rights as being mutually exclusive political positions, and yet in this very essay I have written favorably of both – and it is completely valid to do so because, upon disregarding partisan packaging, it becomes apparent that there is no innate contradiction between the two positions. (It is this lack of inherent incompatibility between the two positions that has allowed for the formation of the Log Cabin Republicans.) When leftists mock the partisanship of the right, they habitually suggest that conservative followers have either been tricked into “voting against their own self interests” or haven’t thought things through because, according to President Obama, millions of Americans don’t care about politics. The truth is more complicated: Democrats and Republicans alike start thinking in narrow-minded ways because they are partisan, and people are partisan because they live in a country with an entrenched two-party system, and they think that it is more effective to pick the side that they deem to be the lesser of two evils within that system than it is to resist the system. However, with a nearly fifteen trillion dollar national debt, it is exceedingly apparent that partisanship is ineffective and our reality is such stuff as satires are made on. Therefore, I do not impugn the ability of people to form sensible opinions – I impugn the two-party system that constricts the people’s opinions and intellectually corners them; at present, the people evaluate the party platforms, determine which positions resonate most within their hearts, and then choose accordingly. Most of them are aware of the constrictions imposed upon them. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have chosen wrongly per se with regards to their partisan preferences; all have been born into a flawed system. Open up democracy to once again respond to the will of the individual and individuals will be more open-minded. Keep democracy crudely fashioned towards the will of a corporately influenced two-party system and peoples’ minds will remain crude, and as the apparatus of government moves in its characteristically slow and sudden tectonic shifts, citizens will fall through the chasms, casting aspersions as they plummet.
Both parties got us into this debacle and systemic changes are necessary for the wellbeing of this country. The Tea Party has proposed systemic changes. It is time for people to part with their partisan biases in order consider all of the ideas on the table without fallaciously disparaging the other people sitting at the table. We are all here together, and we need to act in the togetherness of America towards the grand plans and purposes innate within the Constitution of the United States. We need to urge our elected representatives to reduce, reform, and reprioritize government spending.
David Pring-Mill is a writer, independent filmmaker, and activist. He lives in New York City. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow Dave’s tweets at twitter.com/davesaidso.